JANUARY 2017 > Cupping Therapy

Cupping Therapy

An ancient twist to traditional treatments

by Carrie Borzillo

We’ve seen Olympic athletes do it for sports injuries, and celebrities do it to detox, but the benefits of cupping go even farther than that. Cupping can help with a myriad of health concerns ranging from digestive to respiratory issues, as well as mental health, well-being and even anti-aging.


While it’s not as common as cupping on other parts of the body, some spas have used cupping during facials or to relieve specific conditions in the area, such as sinusitis, congestion and TMJ. The smallest silicone cups (round and oval) with a suction ball on top, known as Bell Cups, are the best choice as they are easier to maneuver in small places.

“It’s also great for facial rejuvenation in that it reduces puffiness by drawing out stagnant fluids and stimulating lymphatic drainage flow,” says Amy Lindsay-Joynt, a licensed massage therapist at Milk + Honey, which has four locations in Texas.

“It increases local circulation, bringing nutrients to the surface, causing lines and wrinkles to plump up. The negative pressure helps scar tissue to soften, and because cupping has a calming effect on the nervous system, the muscles of the face soften and relax.”

In order to avoid leaving cup marks, Lindsay-Joynt says that the specialized facial cups are used with light oil, such as jojoba, for an easy glide and are rarely, if ever, left stationary on the face. “This area is highly vascularized so stick with suction release and the light glide because it provides more pressure control, as you’ll want to keep the pressure very light,” she says. “If there’s an area of concern as with TMJ it’s best to repeat the stroke two to three times. Gently anchoring the skin will enhance gliding and can alleviate any discomfort if the skin is loose. A hot towel to the face to remove the oil is a nice way to finish the treatment.”

Meghann Lawrence, chief of operations at Ummelina International Day Spa in Seattle, Wash., notes that the lymphatic drainage during facial cupping helps provide a “slimmer look and it can also give the fact a lift.” She uses a three-pass approach on the face draining toward the lymph nodes.

As with most spa services, regular treatments are recommended. “If you start young, you’re increasing circulation to the face and giving necessary lymphatic work and could decrease future fine lines and wrinkles,” says Lawrence. “If you start when you’re older and have noticeable fine lines and wrinkles, you might notice a difference with continued treatment but it probably won’t last forever.”

There’s a long list of contraindications for cupping on all parts of the body. Jessica O’Brien, corporate director of massage therapy at Bella Santé spas in Massachusetts breaks it down: “Cupping in general shouldn’t be done on a client with fever, convulsions or cramps, over allergic skin conditions, ulcerated sores or large blood vessels, broken bones, dislocations, slipped disks, those undergoing cancer treatments (check with a doctor), sunburn, ruptured, ulcerated, inflamed skin, acute stages of psoriasis, eczema or rosacea.”


Cupping on the abdomen is known to improve digestion by increasing the flow of digestive juices and absorption of nutrients. It’s also a great part of a detox therapy or to relieve constipation because it externally manipulates the digestive and reproductive systems, thus simulating peristalsis. Additionally, it’s been said to aid in breathing and relieve symptoms of asthma.

A variety of cups can be used for this, but Lindsay-Joynt prefers medium and large silicone cups because their shape makes it easier to hold and they move nicely over the abdomen with oil.

“Stationary cups are used for no more than two to three minutes during the course of the treatment,” she explains. “These are jostled to provide stimulation to the particular area. The use of gliding while turning the cups clockwise helps to stimulate movement along the large intestine. The cups with the hand held pump also lend themselves well to this technique as well as for the lymphatic drainage clearing and sweep before and after the treatment,” says Lindsay-Joynt.

Lawrence further explains, “We also get a lot of our nutrients via our intestines and many of us do not do regular or semi-regular cleanses to get rid of the build up so we cannot absorb those nutrients. Cupping helps move that build up.”

Cupping on the abdomen is also good for mental health. “The abdomen tends to be where a lot of emotions may be stored, therefore increased tension, this helps in reducing tension,” says O’Brien.

The effects of the stimulation can be expected to last between 24 and 72 hours, provided the client drinks plenty of water.


Cupping on the back is usually used to relieve pain and soreness from overworked muscles, or neck and back aches from stress. It’s is also a useful treatment for bronchitis, asthma, congestion and sciatica pain, which can be relieved by placing cups over the points of pain on the buttocks.

“Treatment always depends on the patient being treated and the conditions being treated so it ranges from five minutes to perhaps 15 minutes,” says Katharine Morse, an acupuncture physician at Skin Apeel Day Spa in Boca Raton, Fla. “I typically use suction cupping and often use moving cupping to obtain good results. Moving cupping requires application of oil to the shin prior to movement so the cups glide across the skin.”

Cupping is a great addition for a deep tissue massage. “It increases blood flow, which is one reason it allows the massage therapist to get deeper into the muscle faster,” says O’Brien. “Combining cupping with hands-on work in any area of the body allows for deeper work to be done. Quite often it can take a therapist a while to warm up the muscle enough to get into the deeper levels of muscle, and cupping can speed this process up.”


As with the back, getting deep during a deep tissue massage on the legs can often be challenging for the therapist and uncomfortable for the client. Cupping on the legs aids with that and is great for muscular injuries, tension, sciatica treatment and sports recovery.

“These same areas can be approached with cupping techniques prior to hands-on technique or in combination with to achieve the same effect of releasing tension but with less discomfort,” says O’Brien. “It’s great for work in IT (iliotibial) band area.”

Large and medium silicone cups are best for these treatments, but the plastic cups with the hand-held pump cups also work. “For the treatment of IT band and sciatica issues, the cups are placed stationary for no more than 10 to 15 minutes and then removed,” says Lindsay-Joynt. “For a stubborn IT band, small and medium cups are used with cross-friction, and gliding methods are also used to help release adhesions.”

It also helps reduce the appearance of cellulite after six to 10 treatments and with regular maintenance. “Because the treatment of cellulite is a lymphatic drainage technique, the pathway to the inguinal region must be cleared first, then a method of gliding is utilized in the direction of the inguinal area,” adds Lindsay-Joynt. “This area can be tender, so lightly anchoring the skin can alleviate this.”